AndyO Blog

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Star Wars in Concert

A week ago, on October 13 , Cameron and I attended Star Wars in Concert at Key Arena in Seattle. If you haven't heard about this tour, it's a concert with a full symphony orchestra playing in front of a huge high-definition LED screen. For this event, Lucasfilm produced several montages from all six Star Wars films that play on the screen throughout the concert. Composer John Williams arranged new compositions for each montage. As an added bonus, there's a exhibition of movie props--from the original Darth Vader costume to Chewbacca to view outside the concert area before the show.

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My connection to the Star Wars: A New Hope soundtrack goes way back. It was one of the first records I ever bought (in fifth grade), and I played it until I wore it out. But as much as I love the Star Wars films and music, I'd never heard any of the music played live. Star Wars in Concert was the perfect opportunity to finally hear it.

Cameron and I had excellent seats, right above the left side of the stage, seven rows up. As we waited for the show to start, we heard lightsaber sounds buzzing over the PA, and the orchestra tuning up behind a white curtain. Kids waved their lightsabers around like glow sticks at a rock concert. Suddenly, the lights went out, and the symphony started playing the Fox Fanfare, like you hear before every Star Wars film. The white curtain dropped to the ground, and the symphony blasted into the Main Title, with hi-def images playing behind them.

 sw2_daniels

After each track, actor Anthony Daniels, who played C3PO in all six Star Wars film, came out and told the story of Star Wars, setting up each sequence -- like "Droids," "Narrow Escapes," "Princess Leia," etc. After he spoke, he'd either sit on a seat at the side of the stage or he'd go backstage.

The stage itself was designed to look like it belonged in the Star Wars universe. The massive orchestra filled the stage, and a choir stood in the back for the first half of the show. There were times that the hi-def screen just projected images of the orchestra, provided by two jib cameras swinging around on stage right and left and one stationary camera at the sound board.

sw3_yoda

The new arrangements of the music were good, but I think they could have gotten away with playing the soundtrack to certain sequences in the original movies. For example, they played the track for the TIE Fighter attack on the Millennium Falcon from Episode IV, but it was to a montage of all six movies. I'd even be willing to pay to go see a live orchestra play behind the entire original Star Wars film, like they did for E.T. - The Extraterrestrial.

Tracks that sounded especially good live were Anakin's Theme and Across the Stars (Love Theme from Star Wars: Episode II). These themes usually get overpowered by more exciting ones, like Dual of the Fates or the Main Theme; but in a live setting, sequenced at the right time, these themes take on a life of their own. I always like how Williams alluded to Darth Vader's theme in Anakin's Theme.

All in all, seeing this show was well worth it. I recommend this for anyone who's a fan of these movies or likes symphonic music.

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There are a couple of historical notes about the Star Wars soundtrack that show how important the music was to the film

First, during the 1970s most films didn't include symphonic soundtracks. If you go back and listen to many of those movies, you'll hear bands or minimal compositions. George Lucas knew that Star Wars needed the majesty of a full symphony orchestra to help propel the film.

Second, I read a story that Lucas showed Star Wars to an audience of friends, including Francis Ford Coppola, without the soundtrack (it wasn't done yet). Evidently, everyone who watched the film thought that it was a disaster. But Lucas must have known that the soundtrack that John Williams was writing was his secret weapon. 

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Here are some photos of the exhibit and the characters wandering around the exhibit:

 StarWars 022 StarWars 023 StarWars 024 StarWars 025 StarWars 026  StarWars 028 StarWars 029 StarWars 030 StarWars 031 StarWars 032 StarWars 033  StarWars 035 StarWars 036 StarWars 037 StarWars 038 StarWars 039 StarWars 040 StarWars 041 StarWars 042  StarWars 044 StarWars 045

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posted by AndyO @ 11:01 AM   0 comments links to this post

Thursday, October 01, 2009

An evening with astronaut Gregory C. Johnson

Last Wednesday, September 23, Cameron and I went to the Museum of Flight in Tukwila to see astronaut Gregory J. Johnson. Cameron's been talking about wanting to be a fighter pilot and an astronaut, so I thought it would be good for him to meet one.

Astronaut Gregory C. Johnson Johnson gave a fascinating hour-long presentation about his road to becoming an astronaut as well as a detailed account of his Space Shuttle flight STS-125. Johnson was the pilot for this mission to upgrade and repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

Long before he was flying the Space Shuttle, Johnson learned to fly in Moses Lake, WA, in seaplanes. He used these skills to fly for Kenmore Air as he attended the University of Washington, where he earned a degree in Aerospace Engineering. After that, Johnson went on to be a naval aviator, with over 500 carrier landings under his belt, and retired with the rank of Captain. He then became a USAF test pilot at Edwards Air Force base.

There were a few things in the presentation and the QA I'd never heard:

  • Because the Hubble Space Telescope is in a high orbit, there's a bigger risk of space debris hitting the shuttle on the ascent. Johnson said that the only way NASA would do this mission was if there was another "rescue" shuttle standing by to rescue the crew, which there was.
  • When asked about how bad the problem was with space debris, Johnson said they track many pieces of debris -- the actual size they can track being classified. (When I told this to a friend at work, Dave Johnson [no relation], he said the reason it's classified is it would show how well we can scan other countries' satellites.)
  • Johnson said that during the ascent, you feel 3 Gs for "a long time." He said it's like someone sitting on your chest.
  • Johnson said that the entire re-entry flight is controlled by autopilot. They switch off the autopilot on final approach, as the computer isn't able to do this part of the flight.
  • Someone asked Johnson if during re-entry if he enjoyed it at all -- if he was able to look at the window. Johnson replied that during the entire descent he was looking at computer screens and helping the commander. (Evidently there were a few problems on the way down, although it wasn't clear from Johnson's answers what they were.)
  • Johnson said that they had some alarms on the ascent -- and he thought they were going to lose one of the engines.
  • Due to weather, the shuttle and crew had to stay in orbit a few extra days. On the first extra night, NASA sent up the new Star Trek movie in eight pieces. (He said this was before the film was in theaters.) They set up two laptops with the movie and watched it until they were supposed to go to bed. Johnson said they had to ask Commander Altman (AKA "Dad") if they "could please stay up and watch the rest of Star Trek?"
  • On the second extra night, the crew watched "Apollo 13," which made me wonder if this was a rite of passage for astronauts in orbit. He said it wasn't fun watching a movie about astronauts who were almost marooned.

After the presentation, Cameron and I waited to get an autograph from Astronaut Johnson. When it came our turn, Cameron got tongue-tied when Johnson asked his name so I had to speak for him. But he got his autograph, which he's very proud of.

To read more about  Gregory C. Johnson, see this pre-flight interview with him on NASA's website.

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